You might be thinking what this is that I am writing about. Well, a little perspective will probably help.
Both “America” and “Landscape With Snow” are works of art by different artists kept at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Often referred to as The Guggenheim, it is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, early modern and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year.
The Guggenheim, as well as other art museums, is the customary place where the White House (WH) occupants borrow major works of art during their time office to adorn the Oval Office, their private living quarters and the other rooms.
The Smithsonian museum for instance loaned the Kennedys a Eugène Delacroix painting, “The Smoker”. The Obamas preferred abstract art, choosing works by Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns.
“Landscape With Snow”
President Donald Trump’s WH, however, is said to have requested from the Guggenheim’s chief curator Van Gogh’s “Landscape With Snow” painting depicting a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog, to be placed inside the couple’s room.
Nancy Spector, the chief curator, reportedly denied the request, in her email to the WH, saying, the 19th century painting was “prohibited from travel except for the rarest of occasions”. She further explained that the painting was on its way to be exhibited at the Guggenheim’s museum in Bilbao, Spain, and then would return to New York “for the foreseeable future.”
Spector instead offered an alternative that is “America”, an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet which is a creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan. She even enclosed a photo of it – for their reference.
Cattelan’s “America” caused something of a sensation after the Guggenheim unveiled it in 2016, drawing more than a few headlines of amazement and amusement.
For a year, Cattelan’s gleaming gold toilet was on display at the Guggenheim restroom for the private use of members of the public with a guard posted outside and where a crew would arrive every 15 minutes or so with specially chosen wipes to clean the gold.
Now that the exhibition was over, the artist would “like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan”, Spector said in her email.
Asked to explain the meaning of the installation and why he offered it to the Trumps, 57-year-old Cattelan answered: “What’s the point of our life? Everything seems absurd until we die and then it makes sense.”
Spector called the toilet “a cipher for the excesses of affluence” and said more than 100,000 people had queued “for the opportunity to commune with art and with nature”.
Though crafted from millions of dollars’ worth of gold, the sculpture is actually a great leveler. As Cattelan has said, “Whatever you eat, a US$200 lunch or a US$2 hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.”
But there is no doubt that the offer for “America” to be installed at Trump’s WH is a dig at Trump himself, given the latter’s well-documented history of installing gold-plated fixtures in his residences, his properties and even his airplane.